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Retired Teacher and Principal and School Secretary at Moldaw Residences Reflect on Experiences in the Education System
This time of year most everyone is right in the middle of “back-to-school” madness. Parents have been rushing around to get the right sized three-ring binders, the red and black ink pens, the newer style of backpacks and lunchboxes and everything else on the school’s suggested list of supplies. In the meantime, teachers, principals and school administrators already have been in their “back-to-school” mode for a few weeks with workshops and staff meetings to ensure that first day of school goes as smoothly as possible. No matter how long it has been, retired teachers, principals and school staff members can recall vividly that hustle and bustle of preparing for the beginning of a school-year. Donald Paisley, now 86 years old and living at Moldaw Residences retirement community, remembers very well how much time and effort is required of a teacher and principal. He started as a substitute teacher, was offered a job as full-time teacher and eventually became principal serving more than 20 years over multiple schools. Similarly, fellow Moldaw resident Ellen Rubinchik recognizes the amount of energy a school staff member expends every day. She worked as a school secretary for more than 30 years and fondly looks back during this time of year on her experiences with the students and staff.
Paisley described having some of the most satisfying moments of his career during his time as principal of Whisman Elementary Schools (before they merged to become part of Mountain View schools). It was then that Paisley saw the opportunity he had to be a father-figure to many of the students. Several attending that school were there because their fathers were sent to the Moffett Field area for the Naval Air Station.
“So many of the young students had fathers that were away for long periods of time,” said Paisley. “I would meet them when they got off the bus and always tried to be more of a friendly hand to the kids rather than just an authoritative ‘boss’ figure to them.”
Having five children of his own and now grandchildren, Paisley recalls where it all started for him and how he is excited that his granddaughter is now going to school to become a teacher.
“I went to Stanford to study speech and drama because I had wanted to become an actor originally,” said Paisley. “During my college studies, I changed my focus to education realizing I was not cut out to be an actor, and I started substitute teaching for sixth graders in Sunnyvale. When the teacher decided she didn’t want to come back from maternity leave, I was offered the job.”
From that point, Paisley was encouraged by the current principal to get his Master’s degree and credentials, and he later was named vice principal of the Sunnyvale elementary school. At that time, a unique requirement was enforced: the vice principal had to spend a certain number of days substitute teaching throughout the district as needed, so Paisley often found himself in the classroom and often with kindergartners. Keeping so many kids that age in line and focused in a classroom setting made him realize how underrated the teaching job truly is in his opinion.
Rubinchik had the same approach as Paisley did when it came to working with the children in the school system. She started out simply helping in the schools as needed on a part-time basis and then was hired as a full-time staff member working in the role of school secretary for an elementary school and junior high school in the Jefferson School District of Daly City.
“The title school secretary involved lots of different jobs and tasks,” explained Rubinchik. “I took care of the kids when they were sick using band-aids and tender loving care; I worked closely with the principal as needed; I handled all the registration and the grading system for teachers; and I was in a way a sort of a psychiatrist or counselor for the parents who often came in the office upset or ranting about something. They confided in me and reached a more calm and comfortable state before going in to meet with the principal.”
Rubinchik believes that any person working in the school system who interacts with the students has an opportunity to make a positive impact on their lives whether as a principal or a teacher or a school secretary. Having retired 14 years ago, she still often finds herself thinking about some of those kids in the elementary school where she worked for decades and wondering where they are now or how they turned out. Her hope is that she was able to show them love and give them an uplifting experience if for only that short time that she had with them during their school days and that it led them to do great things down the road.
“Sometimes you’re that loving, caring adult figure in the student’s life that they may never see or experience otherwise,” said Rubinchik. “You never know what they are coming from when they get to school, so having that understanding and supportive approach to encourage them along the way may be just what they need to get them through that day and ultimately through life.”
Both Paisley and Rubinchik understand the importance of helping children have a good educational experience and how hard the work is for anyone involved in the school system. They hope everyone takes the time to appreciate their teachers and school staff members during this new school year.